Bombshell (2019)

★★½

Fair and balanced. Ha!

With shimmer and spite, Bombshell depicts the detonation of the Fox News hierarchy that occurred once its female employees exposed the company’s long-practiced, well-nourished culture of sexual harassment. Directed by Jay Roach and written by The Big Short’s Charles Randolph, it is also an eccentrically blunt tale of America’s top two exports – sex and power – and how, for a long time, they maliciously fused together at the conservative media juggernaut.

The trail of perverted misconduct led by former Fox News CEO and republican titan Roger Ailes is demonstrated through three of the network’s employees: two real-life characters – former headlining correspondent Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and former “Fox & Friends” co-host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) – and one fictional one, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a Fox fanatic whose aspirations to reach the top of the chain make her the perfect, unsuspecting victim. Thick in the impending prominence of then presidential nominee Donald Trump, the three women must navigate between Ailes’ tyrannous and disgusting demands, while deciding whether or not relaying the truth is worthy of personal and professional jeopardy.

On the page, these ingredients look mighty tasty. With John Lithgow co-starring as the serial sexual harasser, and a supporting cast that includes Kate McKinnon, Malcolm McDowell and Allison Janney, this timely, horrific tale has enough talent to jolt life into it. Unfortunately, Randolph’s tacky script, diffused by commentating voice-overs, is often matched by Roach’s odd, quasi-documentary approach. Invasive and random zooms search for a punchline that is never really there – the film sometimes takes on the look of The Office – and with the occasional offering of actual footage, the result is jarringly inconsistent.

The performances, however, are always compelling. Theron inhumanly blends into her role as the infamously loud-spoken commentator; Kidman, as the wise owl of the crew, wears her character’s show business experience in a holster (“she’s done her homework,” one of Ailes’ lawyers admits defeatedly); and Robbie, as a composite character representing god knows how many young, wide-eyed women, has moments of greatness in the film’s only traditional dramatic arc. During one harrowing scene, in which her business meeting with Ailes turns into a twisted display of eye candy, the magnetic actress personifies the devastation, confusion, and bewilderment of discovering what’s really behind the curtain.

Other than being an unquestioning muncher of Fox’s right buffalo wings, there is no doubt that Kayla is the most accessible of these characters. Audience members with a keen memory and access to cable television, however, might have trouble finding sympathy, reliability, or authenticity in the film’s pair of real Fox faces. Bombshell faces a similar issue. Otherwise corralling practitioners of Fox News into a pool of unbreakable and mindless militants, it paints propaganda-spilling anchors Kelly and Carlson as misunderstood martyrs; women who not only didn’t mean what they said, but who were biting at the bit to shake things up.

Now, is that true?

by Luke Parker

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